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WHEN the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China, the world watched with great interest. It seemed so distant and didn’t involve us.

Then the spread of the disease gained momentum and was reported and detected in other countries. Before we knew it, the coronavirus arrived at our doorsteps. There were people we knew, and friends of friends as well as public figures who were infected and treated.

A flurry of fear and panic ensued. It was mind-boggling that it was now so close to home. Yet there remained people who made light of this matter, mocking those who took the situation seriously.

In the meantime, I’d been going to four different hospitals the last three weeks to bring loved ones for their check-ups as well as my own. The fear of exposure and possibility of being infected niggled at me.

My family and I decided to step up our sanitising process so that we could minimise bringing into our homes whatever was outside. By now, we knew that the virus wasn’t airborne but upon contact and surfaces. It could stick to tabletops, door handles, lift buttons, toilet bowls, our clothes, and so on.

Washing hands with soap and water became ever important. Next was carrying hand sanitisers with us. It became as important as carrying our wallet, phone, wet wipes and tissues wherever we went.

Before entering the house, we’d spray our footwear (especially the soles) with disinfectants. We’d leave all footwear outside the house. We’d wash our hands with soap and water. Then we’d change from our “outside” clothes to home clothes. The “outside” clothes would get sprayed with disinfectant before they’re washed.

Our home rule also includes strictly forbidding getting on or into bed wearing “outside” clothes. We’d change into our home clothes first especially if we’d been in busy public places like hospitals, schools, malls and markets. Some days, we’d shower first before changing our clothes.

This was something we learnt back in those days when we were on hospital duty when my late parents were hospitalised. The nurses told us to never sit on the patient’s bed when we visited.

They said we might’ve been in places that could have transmittable germs. We understood and liked this reasoning. After that, we implemented this rule and never allowed any visitor to sit on the patient’s bed — no matter their rank or relationship with the patient.


When the coronavirus situation became a threat, we wore masks in crowded places. However, we stopped that when a notice was issued where only those who were ill should wear masks; healthy people need not.

Then, just last week, my husband said he’d been exposed to someone who was in close contact with someone who tested positive. That made me take four steps away from infection by a known person — not likely to be infected but we needed to know. By then I was already unwell with symptoms of flu — achy bones, fatigue, sore throat, dry cough, chills and headaches. Fortunately I didn’t have any fever.

We were told that if we thought we were infected, we shouldn’t go to normal clinics or hospitals except those that had facilities to deal with disease control. We went to such a hospital to make enquiries and the staff said under the circumstances, we should take the test.

They had a list of questions that helped them decide whether or not we should be tested. I later realised that this step was necessary because at that time, there were limited number of test kits and shouldn’t be “wasted” if not necessary. Plus it was pricey.

The test involved getting swab samples from the nose and throat. I thought it would be a simple swab. How wrong I was! The swabs went deep into the throat, making me gag; and deep up my nostril, making me all teary. I was sore for the next two hours.

We received our results the following afternoon. It was a happy negative for us.

Never have I been happier to be told that it was a common flu and bronchitis. The medications that followed were the regular stuff prescribed for such occasions.

My husband’s friend, unfortunately, tested positive. It was a good thing we had ourselves tested. That was a close shave! There were people who trivialised our experience, saying that we were bored or had nothing better to do.

We did this because we needed to stay well. So many people depend on us. We needed to be extra careful because we had loved ones who were in the highly susceptible group. So we needed to minimise any risk of exposure on our loved ones. All I can say is: know thyself. Let common sense prevail.

Putri Juneita Johari volunteers for the Special Children Society of Ampang (SCSOA).

She can be reached at [email protected].

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